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Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in France

Submitted: October 2013

In France, healthcare is not free – at least not at user level. Expect to be charged unless you have adequate insurance.

Doctors generally run along free enterprise lines, and their practice is strongly regulated by the Public Health Code (Code de la santé publique). On the other hand, France’s hospitals are predominantly public, as the public sector accounts for around two thirds of total hospital beds.

Healthcare standards are high, and there is an easy access to well-trained doctors and high-technology equipment, even in rural areas. There might be waiting lists if you need to make a surgery or another complex operation (typically a few months).

If you are not happy with the French healthcare system for any reason, you can still consider postponing treatment until after you leave France. In any event, you must go to a hospital if you have an emergency. See Health Emergencies for Expats in France.

Finding a doctor

You should look for a good general practitioner (médecin généraliste) in your local area as soon as possible. You should also ask your local GP to become your main GP (médecin traitant).A GP may refer you to a specialist or to a hospital if he believes you need it.

A GP can be easily found by a Google search. However, you can use the 118 000 directory. This directory can also be used to find the useful numbers in your local area (e.g. Lyon).

Feel free to:

Word of mouth can help you a lot. Having discussions about healthcare make you more informed. In France, it is easy to come across healthcare topics, especially when you meet elderly people.

Can you go straight to a specialist?

Put simply, no.

As always in France, there are exceptions to the general rule. These exceptions are:

  • Urgent care (e.g. you are on a holiday)
  • Eye doctors (ophtalmologues, commonly referred to as “ophtalmos”)
  • Gynaecologists (commonly referred to as “gynécos”)
  • Psychiatrists, if you are aged between 16 and 25, and
  • Dentists.

Language issues

If you don’t speak fluent French, language is definitely an issue. Most French citizens derive their English language skills solely on the classes they had whilst progressing through the French education system, which is essentially about grammar and vocabulary. If you are outside Paris or the French Riviera, it may be quite hard to find a doctor who can hold a conversation in English.

Appointments

Whether or not you need an appointment (rendez-vous) depends on your doctor.There is no general rule regarding appointments, except perhaps that you should check this in advance with your (prospective) doctor. Some can hold a consultation straightway. Others may require you to wait for one or two days.

Fees (overview)

Payment rates are generally moderate. For example, the price for a simple consultation with a doctor (GP or specialist) should be €23.

The fees charged by French doctors and hospitals are to some extent regulated. That said, some doctors will charge more at the first opportunity because of their expensive lifestyle. Feel free to check in advance the likelihood of being overcharged (dépassements d’honoraires). Alternatively, check your doctor’s lifestyle, as it is often a good indicator.

There is also a risk of being offered unnecessary services. If a dentist makes a filling when you just come for a consultation, you might be a little frustrated when you get the bill, but no more. If that same dentist offers to extract a tooth and replace it with a dental implant, think twice.

Buying glasses

If you need to buy new glasses in France, you should go to a dedicated establishment (opticien). One thing you should know is that there are just too many opticians in France. Hence, they have so few clients that they need to impose crazy commercial margins to stay afloat (typically 250%).

For illustrative purposes, the cost for a pair of glasses can be as high as €500. An expat may thus consider buying glasses on a trip back home.

Medicines

Drugs are only available from a local pharmacist. Unlike Britain, France does not have well-established high street pharmacy chains with loyalty cards, promotional offers, etc.

 

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